“”Who gives a fuck about Christmas stuff and decoration?
|—First Lady Melania Trump, 2018.
“”You know holiday shopping is offensive and wasteful. You know Christmas 'wish lists' and 'gift exchanges' degrade the concept of giving. You know Christmas marketing is a scam, benefiting manufacturers, stores, and huge corporations, while driving individuals into debt. You know this annual consumer frenzy wreaks havoc on the environment, filling landfills with useless packaging and discarded gifts. Yet, every year, you cave in and go shopping.
|—The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
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|Devil's in the details
Christmas is a time of goodwill to all shareholders. To celebrate the birth of Jesus, we stress ourselves out and shout at each other to buy expensive, unneeded presents that'll be forgotten/broken/lost by February, and then spend the holiday period with relatives we barely tolerate while rehashing old arguments. Just like Jesus would have wanted.
Retailers love Christmas. Not only does it give them an end-of-year revenue surge, it also allows them to clear their shelves of old inventory.[notes 1]
- A story about a teenage pregnancy somewhere in the Middle East. Supposedly non-consensually impregnated by a god (who of course did not marry her) and forced to give birth in a stable/cave due to the lack of any social care.
- The Star of Bethlehem, although only one of the gospels (Matthew's) out of the four mentioned it. Sometimes conventionally portrayed (on religiously-themed Christmas cards, for example) as having 4 spikes in a cross shape — unlike other conventional representations, which tend to have 5 spikes in witchcraft or 6 spikes in Israel or seven spikes in Australia or zero spikes (average genuine stars as they actually appear in the night sky).
“”Oh, would you care for a candied cane? It represents the emotional crutch of the season's empty frivolity, each gift a grim foreboding of the final box in which we will all be wrapped.
|—Hans Beinholt, German Ambassador to the UN
- The story of a jolly fat man dressed in red (depending on where you ask; other depictions of Santa are far more modest), driving a flying sled and bringing presents created in a workshop full of elves to children through their chimneys.
- Christmas trees and "silver and gold" decorations which are both explicitly forbidden in the Bible - but who's counting? Incidentally, one Christmas tradition holds that you risk death if you leave your decorations up past Candlemas (Groundhog Day). But the BBC reports that if you didn't get them taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5th or 6th) you should leave them up until Candlemas.
- The date on which Christmas is celebrated.
- Christmas feasting, Christmas drinking, and overall having fun.
- Mistletoe, holly, Christmas stockings, candy canes, reindeer, snowmen, presents, etc.
- Epic consumerism, shopping, and gift exchanging.
"Of the House of David"
12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'" (New International Version)
In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the writer attempts to establish this patrilineal link. (This is one of two chapters in the Bible that lists all the "begats.") The writer goes down the list, starting with "Abraham begat Isaac" in verse 2, and ending with "Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary" in verse 16. But, the full verse[notes 2] reads "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."[notes 3] (King James Version)
If taken literally, Jesus cannot be the messiah because he is not a blood descendant of King David. Still, a few Jews ignored this stipulation and were converted to Christianity. But the bulk of early Christian converts were Romans.
Since the earliest days of Christianity, the customs that Christians use to celebrate Christmas (and Easter) have been altered to attract non-Christians to the religion. Many pagan rituals were incorporated into Christmas festivities as a way to appease ancient converts who were reluctant to discard their old traditions, or perhaps to appease the old gods who might get angry if their customs are abandoned. It is also possible that after the pagans converted to Christianity, they wanted to keep their old traditions alive and incorporated them into the Christian holidays.
A number of late December pagan festivals contributed to Christmas.
The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, at which time they exchanged gifts and had huge feasts. This celebration of the god Saturn occurred from 17 December to 23 December. As early as the end of the 1st century, Christians were celebrating Christmas on 25 December,[notes 4] most likely with the intent of attracting Roman converts.
A Roman festival held - somewhat coincidentally (possibly, anyway) - on the 25th of December which celebrated the re-birth of the sun. (As opposed to the son.)
Ancient Germanic winter festival which gave us the Yule log.
Shortest day of the year. Celebrated everywhere usually with the idea of birth or rebirth.
One of the central themes of Christmas is that Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth. Many other mythologies of the time had stories of virgin births:
- Egyptian mythology:
- The story of Horus, son of the virgin Isis, most well known. He too was visited by three kings.
- If Isis was a virgin, she definitely wasn't by the time of Horus's birth, considering she reanimated Osiris, her brother and husband, specifically to conceive with him.
- The story of the birth of Amenkept III, a similar story that predates Christianity by 2000 years, seems to be even closer to the Christmas story. In the story, Mut-em-ua, a virgin queen of Egypt, experienced the following events:
- Annunciation: The god Taht appeared to the queen and told her that she would soon give birth to a son (Pharaoh Amenkept III);
- The story of Horus, son of the virgin Isis, most well known. He too was visited by three kings.
Other older virgin birth myths include:
- Perseus: The son of Danaë, whose father kept her a virgin because Oracle of Delphi told him that her son would kill him. Zeus impregnated her and, well, you know...
- The avatars of Vishnu were produced by virgin births;
- Prior to her marriage to King Pandu, Queen Kunti was impregnated by Surya, god of the Sun. She delivered a son, Karna. At Kunti's request, Surya restored her virginity to her;
- Afterward, Brahmin ordered King Pandu never to have sex with Kunti or his other wife again. The two queens asked the gods for children and they were impregnated with the Pandavas.
- Zoroaster, who lived about 1100 years before the Christian era, was believed to have been the product of a virgin birth. However, some Christians will tell you that the virgin birth aspect of the story was added at least 100 years after Christ as a way to compete with Christianity. (It's sad that they won't even consider applying the same logic to their own Christmas story.)
- The Shaosyant, the Zoroastrian savior who will usher in the apocalypse, will be born to a virgin who bathes in a lake containing Zoroaster's magically preserved semen.
Saint Nicholas of Myra
According to legend, the Bishop of Myra (in present day Turkey) was a Christ-like miracle worker. He also gave secret gifts to children and the downtrodden. Christians adopted him as the gift-giver in order to erase the final vestiges of Saturnalia from the holiday.
Nicholas died in 346 at the age of 77. The day of his death—6 December—is now his feast day. Many countries that are predominantly Roman Catholic still celebrate 6 December as the main gift-giving day, while predominantly Protestant countries—even those that still celebrate St. Nick's Day—tend to wait until Christmas to exchange gifts. (In a few countries people exchange gifts on both days.)
The Christmas tree
The Christmas tree is believed to date back to 16th century Germany. Evergreen trees were used by the Druids and other northern European pagans to celebrate the winter solstice. In the 1840s, Christmas trees became popular in English-speaking countries when German-born Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) began displaying Christmas trees in Windsor Palace. Traditionally the most common tree was the Norway Spruce, chosen for its classic shape, but other varieties are now preferred because they last longer once cut; today most trees are farmed specifically for that purpose and pruned and tended while growing to give a good shape.
More recently artificial trees have become popular; in the 1880s they were made from feathers dyed green, but today plastic is usual (although artisanal trees can be made from almost anything). In the 00s there was concern about lead in PVC trees, but this is now banned. It is sometimes claimed that artificial trees predate natural ones in the USA, with the Moravian Church in Pennsylvania using a pyramid-shaped structure decorated with candles first recorded in 1747. Recently however there is concern about their environmental impact, both in the manufacture of plastic and the shipping from Chinese factories; the British Carbon Trust says that if a real tree is used and disposed of sustainably (e.g. as woodchips) it produces a tenth of the atmospheric carbon of an artificial tree, but if a tree is thrown in landfill the difference is less.
The decorated tree is one of the more controversial symbols of Christmas because most Christians are aware that the tree is a co-opted pagan symbol. Some versions of the Bible even forbid the bringing of a tree into one's house. When Christmas trees became popular in America in the 1850s, many churchgoers condemned the new practice. Jeremiah 10:2-5 notes that pagans brought trees into their houses and decorated them with silver and gold, but tells people "they can do no harm nor can they do any good"; this is presumably unrelated to the north European custom, but bringing dead plant matter into your home for decoration is almost universal.
A Norse myth claims that the goddess Frigg—their equivalent of the Greek goddess Hera—ordered all plants and animals to do no harm to her son. But she overlooked the mistletoe. Another god killed her son with a sprig of mistletoe, thrusting the earth into a deep winter. When her son was brought back to life, Frigg ordered that henceforth mistletoe would be a symbol of love. When two people meet under mistletoe, they must kiss to honor the gods for restoring spring and summer. However, according to the myth, Frigg still brings winter as a reminder of her displeasure with her son's death.[notes 5]
Holly is especially blessed as it gets into Christmas via two routes. The Druids thought that it would bring good luck and protection in their winter festival and the Romans associated holly with Saturn - the god of agriculture and harvest - and decked their halls with it during the winter festival of Saturnalia. Holly berries are poisonous to people and domestic animals, although the leaves and branches are fine; also, almost every part of mistletoe is mildly poisonous, but this is probably because anything growing around Christmas (midwinter) in Europe needs to work hard to avoid being eaten.
FSM & IPU
Pastafarians also hold an informal celebration on the 25th of December, see Pastafarian holidays with many traditional Christmas symbols. Those who worship the Invisible Pink Unicorn supply Christmas cards and Christmas decorations in Her Most Holy Name.
People in Wales dress up a horse's skull with ribbons and a white sheet, and parade it around town demanding food and ale. This custom, known as the Mari Lwyd, probably contains some pagan elements, although it relates to wassailing traditions common at Christmas. It has also been linked to various donkeys in Christian myth, although none of them were actually dead.
Atheists and Christmas
Some atheists celebrate Christmas and some don't. In Santa Monica, California, atheist groups objected to the public Palisades Park being given over to a nativity scene, and successfully applied to the city for their own spaces. The city allocated the spaces via a lottery, allowing the atheist groups to win 18 of the 21 plots, and leaving the nativity play with just 2. A Jewish group got 1. The Atheists utilised their plots to display messages such as, "37 Million Americans Know MYTHS When They See Them. What do you see?".
If you are a nonbeliever and do not want to celebrate Christmas, there are alternative winter holidays to consider. One is Secular Solstice, pioneered by Raymond Arnold from LessWrong, which celebrates humanity's survival of the hardships that befell it and our place in the universe.
Science dates Christmas
Scientists reason that Jesus would have most likely been born during the summer, as the brightest object in the night sky that decade would have been a conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on June 17th 2 BCE; visible over Bethlehem and easily mistaken for a star. (Of course, this assumes that this three wise men following the star story happened physically as written — that it wasn't an allegory, that the star wasn't a metaphor, etc. — and given the somewhat dubious historical accuracy of the rest of the story, this might be a risky assumption.)
It is generally accepted that the dating to late December was made up to match existing midwinter celebrations, with probably a desire by the Romans to match Saturnalia and possibly other events around the winter Solstice. That time of year when days start getting longer is of great significance to anyone who farms or goes outside. The Nativity stories in Luke and Matthew don't give a specific date or even a season, so the date of Christmas relies on non-Biblical traditions. If you believe the Nativity stories, which are contradicted by each other and other historical records but are the only documents we have, there are various pieces of evidence making a spring or summer birth more likely than winter: the shepherds were in their fields, not sheltering indoors, which suggests spring; censuses tended to occur in summer when travel was easier; it would have been harder for Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem in winter. None of the evidence is conclusive, but what the Bible says points away from winter.
- Christmas = Saturnalia College lecture (with photos and text) about how the early church used Christmas and to attract converts (because more converts = more tithing), on YouTube
- "Hark the Herald Tribunes sings, advertising wondrous things!", (Tom Lehrer) on YouTube
- Whatever inventory remains is documented after the store closes on New Year's Eve. Retailers are then subject to an inventory tax on New Year's Day. (HAPPY NEW YEAR!)
- Which makes every observant Jew with an active brain cell yell, "Now, just wait a fucking minute!!!"
- Emphasis added.
- According to chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke, the shepherds were watching their flocks by night. This would indicate that Christ -- if he was real -- was born in the spring, not at the beginning of winter.
- Much like the rainbow is supposedly a post-Great Flood reminder to do no evil.
- Did Melania Trump Say ‘Who Gives a F*ck about Christmas Stuff’? Snopes.
- The Christmas Resistance Movement
- Full interview
- Jer 10:1-25 Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: “Learn not the way of the nations ["heathen" in the King James version, "gentile" in the New King James version], nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations [ditto] are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”
- Candlemas on BBC Religion
- "Virgin Births in History": From a 1922 article about the parallels between the nativity story and earlier myths.
- So you want to … grow and sell Christmas trees?, Farmers Weekly, 20 December 2018
- See the Wikipedia article on Artificial Christmas tree.
- Carbon Footprint: natural vs plastic Christmas Tree, Sustainability for All
- Roman holly
- Holly Berries, Poison Control
- What happens if you eat mistletoe?, Love the Garden
- Putting Spaghetti back in the Holidays
- I believe in the invisible pink unicorn
- See the Wikipedia article on Mari Lwyd.
- In Santa Monica, battle over Christmas displays takes a new twist
- Secular Solstice website
- "Cancel Christmas - Jesus was born June 17, say scientists", Daily Mail, 9 December 2008
- See the Wikipedia article on Date of birth of Jesus.
- When Was Jesus Really Born?, Lesli White, BeliefNet